Investigative visits with some gung-ho rose-lovers, who reveal their methods, motivation and super-competitive ways.
Scott, a journalist and rose-grower in Portland, Maine, treks cross-country from her hometown to various sunny spots in California, stopping at the homes of numerous rose experts to find out why the flowers enthrall these cheerful, hardworking, deeply committed people. The rosarians (knowledgeable growers of roses) she meets are mostly male and mostly well-off—they need to be able to afford the space and paraphernalia necessary to keep the flowers flourishing. They’re also competitive by nature, and not just about roses: Rachel Hunter, of Temecula, Calif., once ranked third in a national typing contest. But the main focus of the rosarians’ obsessive competitiveness are the three national shows hosted annually by the American Rose Society (ARS); the chapter entitled “Judgment Hour” chronicles the results of the ARS Spring Show in San Diego. Only hybrid teas, Scott learns, can win the top awards of Queen, King, Princess and Best of Show, though thousands of varieties exist within 35 classes or categories of roses. The typical rosarian, she discovers, employs an armada of chemical weapons to keep the flowers in peak bloom and bugs and diseases at bay; the president of the World Federation of Rose Societies is actually a semi-retired forensic chemist and toxicology specialist. Chapters on “Rose Sex” (i.e., hybridizing) and the cultivation of antique rose varieties (“The Heady Scent of History”) are especially interesting. Along the way, Scott offers some fascinating bits of historical trivia: The Minoans of Crete first painted roses; the Romans were crazy about them; and French Empress Josephine so delighted in the flowers that she even managed to save many species from extinction at her estate at Malmaison.
The laborious agonies of creating beauty, captured in relaxed, anecdotal prose.